Prescient ‘middlebrows’

An essay in Sunday’s New York Times takes up one of the most popular writers of the 1970s, Herman Wouk, whose books The Winds of War and War and Remembrance were immensely popular, pointing toward Wouk’s portrayal of the millions of small moral failures that precede political cataclysms. Mentioned in passing, too, is James Michener; both authors are characterized as ‘middlebrow’.

That is, both writers were widely read and financially successful, but neither ever enjoyed the intelligentsia’s approval as Vladimir Nabakov or John Updike did; they were … popular! GASP!

Reconsidered decades later, though, it turns out that both Wouk and Michener were a lot smarter than they were given credit for.

Wouk was certainly correct about the importance of confronting ignorance and bigotry rather than politely ignoring it. As events in this country have shown, it doesn’t need a majority to launch an influential movement animated by malice; it needs millions of people who don’t confront crazy Aunt Grizelda when she launches a rant about immigrants, gays, godlessness. You won’t change your crazy aunt’s mind, but you can let the people around her know that their instincts against her rants are sound, and that they aren’t alone. Acting together, you can arrest the madness.

Everybody who has read the Mueller Report knows that Donald Trump, FOX News, and William Barr have lied — L-I-E-D — to the country; that the Oval Office is occupied by a criminal and, arguably, a traitor; that we are witnessing the creation of a 1984-ish State Media right in front of our eyes.

The time to speak-up is now — not when the choice is bloodshed or slavish submission.

Michener wrote 2-books of striking prescience. The first was Presidential Lottery, in 1968, which takes-up and urges the elimination of the Electoral College. James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention, and the subsequent discussion of it in The Federalist, make clear that the Electoral College has two purposes: preventing the large states from overwhelming the small and, second, preventing the election of a cheap demagogue. The College clearly succeeded in its first purpose, and clearly failed at its second; indeed, on that question, the College made possible the very thing it was intended to prevent.

Michener predicted that.

The second book was a novel, Space. In that book, Michener clearly foresaw the gay rights movement; the malign influence of the Evangelical Right and its exploitation of public ignorance of science and its misguided trust of religious figures; and the eventual abandonment of space exploration.

Both writers deserved to be, and should have been, taken more seriously.

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